Jan 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The accidental tour-ists

The Television Critics Association’s winter tour gets under way today at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in the Hollywood & Highland complex, the location for which the networks convinced the TCA to forsake Pasadena’s more spa-like Ritz-Carlton Huntington. The expectations are that the collective TCA body will sound like Macon, the “I don’t like to travel” travel writer played by William Hurt in “The Accidental Tourist,” with members already listing the many ways in which the Renaissance is not the Ritz-Carlton.

The Renaissance is a new hotel that offers satellite TV, coffeemakers, CD players and high-speed Internet access in each room. But the average room at the Renaissance tends to be smaller than those at the Ritz-Carlton, a complaint already being voiced to network reps by critics, most of whom are only now getting a look at the rooms, which are going for $119 a night. And instead of a minibar-which many critics tend to empty and then use as a small refrigerator, stocking it with normal food from a local market-the rooms are stocked with automated beverage dispensers.

The TCA has wangled a limited number of complimentary upgrades to slightly larger rooms with king-size beds and a limited number of complimentary small bar refrigerators (both to be made available based partly on how long the TCA member is staying). The TCA also has convinced the hotel to make the high-speed Internet access, which normally costs $10 per day, free to TCA members, and to discount room service, laundry, dry cleaning and overnight valet parking.

The Insider, whose New York kitchen is smaller than the average hotel bathroom, wishes the whole world were so complimentary.

The carefully planned sessions

Otherwise, this tour promises to be much like any other. There’ll be the requisite celebrity quotient (the Rolling Stones via satellite from Montreal to promote their concert on HBO, Cher on hand to promote her “Farewell Tour” on NBC).

The schedule also is packed with the latest twists on reality. The Learning Channel has a new series in which someone whose friends and family think she or he is a frump gets a makeover. (The Insider thinks the nominees ought to think about trading families and friends instead of spaces.) Discovery Health Channel will challenge six overweight and out-of-shape Southern Californians to trim down and shape up. (The Insider thought the reality in Southern California was that the overweight and out-of-shape simply did not get a callback.) Fox has “Joe Millionaire,” in which a real butler helps a guy pass himself off as a millionaire looking for love in all the wrong faces.

Reality meets past or present celebrity in ABC Family’s “My Life Is a Sitcom,” a nationwide search for a real family to star as itself in a sitcom based on its life (“The Brady Bunch’s” Maureen McCormick is cast as a celebrity judge); in The WB’s “The Surreal Life”( “When the stars fall from sight … this is where they crash,” says The WB’s Web site); and in UPN’s “UPN’s Supermodel Show” (Tyra Banks is executive producer and judge).

The preview session for ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” will give the critics a gander at his studio in the El Capitan Entertainment Space that’s a convenient hop, skip and jump away from-you guessed it!!-the Renaissance.

The tales we live to tell

And of course there will be the catered excursions (CBS will bus the critics to the set of “CSI Miami”) and the working parties (look for Playboy Hugh Hefner at The WB’s bash) that invariably produce vignettes that sum up this mondo strange-o ritual known as the press tour. For some, there’ll be a moment that produces the title of a chapter in one’s life story.

For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gail Shister (before she could claim the title of deaness of the TV press corps) and The Insider (before she took to referring to herself in the third person) hung out together at the House of Blues on an evening in 1995 when Telepictures and Time Life Video were promoting their syndicated series “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

The bar was pushing a garishly colored drink called “Madonna’s Underwear,” which Ms. Shister and The Insider passed under our noses before tasting, which turned out to be almost as disturbing as the panel that included one very wacky-acting Gary Busey. He appeared to be trying to send a telepathic message to his wife at the back of the room. He would later get a little more physical in an apparent attempt to make some point. After he was trundled into a limo, Ms. Shister and The Insider agreed that both would be able to title a chapter in their memoirs “Channeling Gary Busey and Sniffing Madonna’s Underwear.”

Next week (if the TCA tour doesn’t produce far more fun material): How The Insider got tossed out of a Grateful Dead concert in the wee hours on her 49th birthday simply because she was wearing a New York Post T-shirt and was told by a rather aggressive roadie, “The New York Post is not on our agenda.”#